You looked at me like you wished I was dead. I saw your eyes. Cold, hard, steely brown eyes, peeping out from beneath the hood of your scarf. You couldn’t smile, you couldn’t return my salaam as doing so would be act of friendship, an act of humanity. And I’m not deserving of your humanity. So you looked right through me, wishing me dead with those pudgy eyes, drilling holes into my soul.
At first I didn’t realise why. I questioned myself. The slow tide of anxiety crept up from the pit of my stomach, ambling towards my chest, meandering upwards. Then I realised. Months ago, I asked you politely not to give my daughter your mobile phone as we were screen-free and you took offence. Your boiling rage burnt me then as it still does. It spilled over onto my hands, my face and chest; the hatred on your face made it ugly and twisted. And still, those eyes: set back in your face, not round and large like eyes should be, but small, hard little marbles, recessed, unnatural, unpretty.
I tried to ignore it, but your passive aggression ate up everything in the room. You spoke to others but your physical distance stifled me, bearing down like a weight on my chest. Your silence filled up the room with hatred. A hatred that your hijaab could not cover. And I felt it again, like I felt it before: the creeping, crawling anxiety, touching every organ as it moved its way up my body, into my chest, wrapping its fingers around my throat, squeezing, pressing. I breathed hard. I tried to push it down but it continued to gnaw at my insides while you were close by.
I tried to leave the room. I tried to get away from you. But your rage followed me. It clawed its way to my chest, sitting there, reminding me: you wanted me dead. Did you want me shrouded in that casket instead of the body that was actually there? The body we were all there to mourn? I always see it in those eyes, recessed into your face: you knew your nephew didn’t made the right choice; I was a choice you’d never approve of, no matter what. I can’t help but wonder, if I left him tomorrow, would you be happy? Would you gloat? Would you try to find him another straight away? Would you offer to give my daughter to a more worthy woman?
A million ‘what ifs’ float around my brain as I try to quash the juddering in my chest with the pathetic power of my breath. My hands tingle as I realise I’m clenching them, even now, willing your rage to leave me alone. My biggest fear isn’t you. My biggest fear is I will be like this forever and pass it onto my tiny bundle of joy. My biggest fear is she will turn out like you. My biggest fear is I won’t be the woman I need to be for her to become the woman I want her to be. My biggest fear is she will turn out like me. My biggest fear is you.
You look at me like I’m weak. Like I’m a pathetic no thing. And I am. Because I can’t control the juddering in my chest when your passive aggression touches me with its cold steely fingers. But at least you don’t know about it. At least you can’t see how much you get under my skin and my soul. I save it for behind a closed bathroom door where I can hide with my shame. Even my shame judges me; it looks down at me from the bathroom ceiling, mocking, sneering, shaking its head at my inability to cope without falling apart.
You completed your Hajj, the most holy pilgrimage, a few years ago, and the scarf cemented itself to your head, but it could never cover your hatred. Your hijaab didn’t change you, it just changed how much fabric the package came in. If I was a nicer person myself, a better Muslim version of me, I could let you go, I could cover your faults with another hijaab. That would be the right thing to do: speak good or remain silent. But I can’t do the right thing. I found myself voiceless in front if you; that passive aggression silenced me. There’s an unspoken rule amongst Pakistani Muslims: never, ever draw attention to the bullying aggression of an elder, it won’t be received kindly and you’ll get burned. So I didn’t. I left. I left voiceless.
But in writing, that’s where I will never remain voiceless, no matter what you do to me. Write and be damned. Write and deal with the consequences. Write it down and send it away. I know I said I wouldn’t, but now I will. From now on, that’s how I’ll fight back. Mighty words that I never have the courage to say to your hate-filled tiny eyes. Mighty word will become my allies and my armour. That juddering you caused when you, sneering, refused to pick up my daughter’s hat that fell on the floor? That rage of yours that bore holes into my soul, filling me up with an uncontrollable anxiety? That pain? Be careful with that. Because that pain you caused may just take you down with the stroke of a pen across a page.